PARIS – Social media is changing the way people dine in the City of Light. A panel last Wednesday entitled “What’s Eating Paris?” brought together English-speaking bloggers and web users to discuss how locals and travelers find out about where to eat in this culinary capital. The event, held at the American University of Paris, was part of the international Social Media Week.
The panel, moderated by innovation talent scout David Bizer, included three prominent bloggers as well as the Paris Yelp.fr community manager. While discussing differences between French and American culture and internet use, the main debate focused on how social media functions in providing restaurant reviews.
The question of voice and community building was important for the panelists. All agreed that writing style and communication with their readership was important to create their audience. Blogger David Lebovitz has been writing since 1999 and shares personal stories on his blog alongside information and reviews. “People read your site because they want to read what you have to say,” he said.
Blogger Lindsey Tramuta agreed. She described how she writes about her own experiences, giving a little bit of herself in each post. Even more, she feels the need to share beyond the blog using Facebook and Twitter to reach her audience and stay in touch. “I try to remain accessible,” she said.
Blogger and journalist Ann Mah also said that Twitter has become a useful tool for her, especially to share information and reviews. “Twitter is a great way to connect with people of similar interests,” she said.
Yelp community manager Elodie Fagan, who helps maintain restaurant reviews on this popular website, said that trust and authenticity are the most important to her community. When it comes to authenticity, the bloggers all agreed that providing true, honest reviews was important.
Knowing how to identify these honest reviews, however, sparked a debate among the panelists. A main point of contention was the role of traditional journalism, with differing views on how journalists stack up to bloggers.
“I wonder if journalists are finding about things any earlier than we are,” Tramuta said.
The immediacy of blogging and the proximity of the writers help them get the scoop on the best new restaurants or cafés, but Mah said that finding out information first doesn’t always mean that a blogger can best report on a topic. “Journalism has a pretty big code of ethics,” she said. Bloggers, for example, might more readily accept free meals or write positively about friends whereas journalists maintain, ideally, a certain sense of objectivity.
Lebovitz agreed that he is careful not to write sponsored posts in order to maintain a sense of freedom over his reviews. Still, he is optimistic about the role of blogs. “We’ve become more powerful than traditional media,” he said.
Mah, however, says she still trusts traditional media, often cross-referencing blogs or Trip Advisor with traditional media outlets to find credible information. “Media brings a different standard than found in food blogs,” she said.
Further debate ensued over different standards in French and American journalism, where Fagan, of French descent, pointed towards the less-objective codes of French journalists. “Journalists are not so free to talk about experiences,” she said, discussing writers who receive meals or have reputations to maintain among media outlets.
The debate cooled over with bloggers giving their recommendation for dinner in the neighborhood to the hungry attendees. Further information about the bloggers and Social Media Week can be found here, as well as a recording of the debate.